Top 10 local search insights of 2017

Is it just me, or does it seem time flies faster in the local search industry? Another year has gone by, with many changes and developments to boot. Here’s a list of my top 10 insights from 2017:
1. Customer data is the new competitive edge
SMBs often feel at a competitive disadvantage compared to larger companies who benefit from scale at every level, including the purchase of search advertising or other marketing services. Data is helping even the playing field as it emphasizes quality over quantity.
Better data resulting in better targeting means that local businesses experience lower costs, higher conversion rates and greater ROI. And while targeting is not a new strategy, what’s new is the access to and quality of data.
Just as the price of technology drops with increased adoption, data will be cheaper, more accurate and more insightful. The Internet of Things (IoT) is driving growth in data much faster than what could be achieved by

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Google brings local lead generation to Google Assistant and Google Home

Google is bringing new forms of local search to the Google Assistant and Google Home. The company announced it’s working with local home service providers “like HomeAdvisor and Porch.”
On any platform where Google Assistant is available, users will be able to ask for contractors (e.g., “Ok Google find me a plumber”). That initiates a structured interaction which generates a lead or contact with a local service provider.
In the case of IAC-owned HomeAdvisor, which now also owns Angie’s List, users can ask to be connected by phone at the end of the process to a contractor or receive a list of relevant, pre-screened contractors. The following graphic depicts part of the user experience and the structured Q&A that’s used to refine the lead.
This is a highly structured local search and lead-generation experience that will bypass conventional search results (i.e., business listings). Google said the new functionality would be rolling out in the next week or so.

Google itself offers local lead generation for contractors

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Google showing knowledge graph data in local panels

Google has started showing more information about local businesses in some local knowledge panel results. It is implementing this by showing additional tabs of information above the local panel for (a) locations (b) about, and sometimes (c) Google Posts.
Here is a screen shot showing a search for [kfc] which brings up locations for nearby KFCs and an “about” tab for knowledge panel information about the chain.

Sergey Alakov, who first spotted this, said it “looks like Google started combining knowledge panels and local packs in mobile search results for businesses that have a knowledge panel displayed for their brand name search and local presence in the user’s area.”
I cannot consistently bring this up, so it might be Google is testing this feature still or it is currently still rolling out to searchers.
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Google’s new #SmallThanks Hub automatically creates digital & printed marketing assets for SMBs

In a move to help SMBs — as well as drive up its verified business listings — Google has launched #SmallThanks Hub, an online resource that creates customized digital marketing content and printed materials based on Google reviews.
“Simply search for your business name on the site, and we’ll automatically create posters, social media posts, window clings, stickers and more — based on the reviews and local love from your customers on Google,” writes Google’s vice president of marketing for Ads & Americas, Lisa Gevelber, on The Keyword blog.
Google says its #SmallThanks Hub, which is rolling out in the US today, is available to any verified Google listing with an address.
“Reviews from your fans are like digital thank you notes, and they’re one of the first things people notice about your business in search results,” writes Gevelber in the announcement. Google shared the following image to highlight how it is repurposing Google reviews into social media posts and

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Survey: 79 percent of consumers believe they’ve seen fake local reviews

BrightLocal is out with its latest local consumer survey about local business reviews. The survey was based on a sample of 1,031 US consumers and covers a wide range of issues.
It affirms the general importance and influence of reviews on consumer decision-making. However, there are a number of nuances and findings I found especially interesting.

The top two considerations for consumers in considering reviews were average star ratings and overall quantity of reviews. In addition, how recent reviews were was important for many. Less important was whether businesses had responded to reviews, although that factor has gained in importance versus last year.
After reading a positive review, fewer consumers said they were going next to the business website versus 2016. This showed a fairly dramatic decline. More people said they were seeking additional reviews to validate the “positive review” they had just read.

About 30 percent of survey respondents said they needed to see at least two to three positive

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Google Maps enables creating & sharing lists on desktop version

Android Police reports Google is now rolling out the ability to create and share lists of places on the desktop version of Google Maps.
This feature originally launched on mobile in February and now seems to be rolling out to the desktop interface. It allows searchers to keep track of saved places and share lists with others via text, email and popular messaging apps.
Here is a screen shot from Android Police showing what happens when you click the “save” button now on the Google local listing in Google Maps:

You can, of course, continue to access your places in the menu on the side of Google Maps to check your saved listings on both desktop and mobile.
It is unclear how long this feature will take to roll out to all users, but it does seem to be rolling out more widely now.
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SEO ranking factors for 4 business verticals and what they mean for local businesses

SEO for local business has gone through a number of changes. First, local businesses had to figure out Google’s algorithm so that their websites would appear in search results. Next came local search ranking factors that emphasized location-based factors. Now, it seems Google updates will require a new look at vertical-specific ranking factors.
This isn’t really a third wave of SEO — rather, it’s an evolution of Google’s general ranking factors. Consistent with attaining its goal of providing consumers with search results that best match what they are looking for and content that will be most helpful, Google looks more deeply and more specifically at factors that determine search results.
What this means is that pursuing general factors like “more backlinks” or “matching keywords” simply doesn’t cut it anymore. That’s not to say those factors are no longer relevant; they are. But it’s getting more complicated.
One size no longer fits all
While the debate rages on about the importance of websites

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A brief history of Google’s most important local search updates

Deciphering the Google algorithm can sometimes feel like an exercise in futility. The search engine giant has made many changes over the years, keeping digital marketers on their toes and continually moving the goalposts on SEO best practices.
Google’s continuous updating can hit local businesses as hard as anyone. Every tweak and modification to its algorithm could adversely impact their search ranking or even prevent them from appearing on the first page of search results for targeted queries. What makes things really tricky is the fact that Google sometimes does not telegraph the changes it makes or how they’ll impact organizations. It’s up to savvy observers to deduce what has been altered and what it means for SEO and digital marketing strategies.
What’s been the evolution of local search, and how did we get here? Let’s take a look at the history of Google’s local algorithm and its effect on brick-and-mortar locations.
2005: Google Maps and Local Business Center become

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Google Posts can now be automated with new API support

Google has updated the Google My Business API to add some support for creating and editing Google Posts. Google Posts is a feature that allows people and businesses to create content directly on Google that can appear highly ranked in Google search results for their names.
In version 4.0 of the API, Google noted that “you can now create Posts on Google directly through the API.” The changelog include a bunch of other features, but the Google Posts is the most notable.
Technically, this can enable third-party developers and tool designers to automate a lot of the posting in the Google Posts interface, similar to the way brands manage their social accounts with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and others.
As Mike Blumenthal said, this is limited to “business[es] with fewer than 10 locations.” Blumenthal says Google appears to be testing support for chains with more than 10 locations.
It will be exciting to see which third-party tools add support for Google Posts

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Markets with home service ads: Service-area businesses are coming back to the local results

After my column about Home Service Ads came out last week, I got a message from Google with some great news. They told me two things:

Google plans to add pure service-area businesses (SABs) back into the local results — this includes home-based businesses.
The disappearance of results for home-based businesses in markets without Home Service Ads was due to a bug (not intentional), which Google says should be resolved soon.

So, almost a year after deciding to remove service-area businesses from the local results, I’m starting to see that Google is adding them back.
Here is an example of a search result I spotted this morning.

A few days ago, it looked like this (Notice how every listing has a directions icon — meaning the address is showing on the listing):

Although owners of service-area businesses will be extremely excited about this change, service-area businesses aren’t the only listings returning to the local results.
The return of spam
One of the good things about

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